Emerging as big-money players in the perpetual Mike Madigan Machine are businessman Chris Kennedy, son of the late U.S. attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, and attorney, entrepreneur and philanthropist J.B. Pritzker, according to recently released financial data.
“It’s clear that both Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker will do whatever [House Speaker] Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) wants,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said. “Pritzker and Kennedy combined to give to a failed Madigan front group $950,000 and thousands more to Madigan’s House candidates.”
Newly available campaign finance records reveal that both men aided Madigan and his oldest daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, in fundraising for a PAC called Leading Illinois For Tomorrow (LIFT), an initiative that invested almost $10 million in campaign materials that targeted GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner prior to the November elections before it eventually folded.
Despite the PAC’s well-funded efforts, Republicans managed to gain six seats in the General Assembly.
“The Madigan family and Chicago Democrat elite can spend all the money they want, but it won’t change the fact that Illinoisans want major reforms in Springfield,” Yaffe said. “Voters now know all the potential Democrat candidates for governor stand with Mike Madigan.”
The list of contributors over the course of one month alone reads like a day planner. After Pritzker donated $900,000 to the PAC — allotted in two installments of $550,000 and $350,000 six days apart — Madigan and Kennedy both contributed funds to the LIFT organization this election season, with Kennedy donating $50,000 on Oct. 20 and “Friends of Michael J. Madigan” allotting $500,000 four days later. Then, on Oct. 31, “Citizens for Lisa Madigan” added another $150,000 to the LIFT PAC’s coffers.
“The only thing less surprising than wannabe governor candidates doing the speaker’s bidding is Lisa Madigan pouring in $150,000 to help him,” Yaffe said. “Lisa Madigan proved that she’ll do anything she can to help Mike Madigan protect the special interests and failed status quo. Springfield needs a shake-up more than ever.”
In a year as rich with conspiracy theories as any other, Crain’s writer Greg Hinz remarked last month on the texture of Illinois’ political landscape. While not as dramatic as a national-level narrative, Hinz said, “anything that involves Bruce Rauner, Mike Madigan, zillions of TV ad dollars and hidden income tax returns reaches a certain level of interest.”
To wit, Hinz said, LIFT was formed with the help of state Sen. Dan Biss (D-Evanston), who abruptly dropped out of the race for Illinois comptroller — consequently allowing Madigan favorite Susana Mendoza to win the nomination. Biss denies that any favors were paid to him in return, but Madigan is reputed to have urged LIFT’s biggest donor, Michael Sacks, to donate $2.5 million to Biss’ PAC.
Additionally, a tangible alliance has been observed among Pritzker, Kennedy and Madigan, with reports ranging from suggestions that the LIFT PAC is merely a Madigan front, to implications of Democrat William M. “Bill” Daley’s involvement.
Daley, the former White House chief of staff, banker and lawyer who also served as U.S. secretary of commerce and briefly ran for Illinois governor in 2013, is said to be “on board” with Kennedy, should he try to run for governor. While that possibility is still very much an “if,” Daley told Pritzker — whose name has been raised as well — that he would support Kennedy, should he decide to campaign.
The difference between their respective campaign approaches would rest largely on financing, with billionaire Pritzker apt to self-fund a run, and the well-connected Kennedy more likely to rely on conventional fundraising avenues — including what one Democrat termed his “platinum donor list.”
“House Speaker Mike Madigan was disappointed in Kennedy’s ability to raise money for Dem campaigns in the last election gleaned from his donor lists,” the Chicago Sun-Times’ Michael Sneed said last week.
“Look, Madigan has been sucking air from the trial lawyers and laborers to get his people elected — and getting tapped out,” another source said. “Susana Mendoza’s race for state comptroller was expensive. That’s why Madigan told Pritzker and Kennedy to rely primarily on self-funding.”
During the recent election cycle, Kennedy was documented as having contributed $5,000 to Susana Mendoza and $1,000 apiece to candidates and state Reps. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park), Dan Beiser (D-Alton), Katie Stuart (D-Glen Carbon), Michelle Mussman (D-Schaumburg), John Bradley (D-Marion), Sam Yingling (D-Grayslake) and Kate Cloonen (D-Kankakee), according to Illinois State Board of Election records.
Biss described the erstwhile LIFT PAC as an effort to counteract the election’s profile as merely a choice between Rauner and Madigan.
"The purpose of this PAC is to frame the choice that voters are making up and down the ballot in November, and not to make it about individual candidates, but to make it about the values that the parties represent," Biss was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as stating.